Drones are becoming the tool of choice for both amateur and professional photographers and videographers. Why? They allow you to take amazing photos.
Drones – also commonly referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs – give the photographer a lot of new options in terms of subjects, angles, and lighting. Let’s be honest: you can take photos and videos of large areas with little effort. You get to reposition your camera at very high speeds to capture things that would otherwise vanish in just a few seconds.
Especially for wildlife photos and videos, even a DIY drone is more than capable of capturing amazing things. And the resolution of drone-mounted cameras is getting better and better all the time, so there is no limit here. People nowadays are working with GoPro 4K video files, so high quality is certainly easy to achieve.
Potential Problems of Using Drones for Photography
One of the problems of using drones for photography is the fact that the battery runs out pretty quickly and it takes a long time to recharge. Even the battery life of a DJI Phantom can limit you in some cases. That’s why both amateur and professional drone operators carry a few extra battery packs with them.
If you plan on keeping your drone in the air for hours at a time, you definitely need to invest in some extra LiPo batteries.
Also, don’t forget to take a few spare propellers with you, just in case. You know how easy it is to snap a propeller if you accidentally hit a branch or other object. Of course, the drone can’t fly with a broken propeller, so your planned shoot may end before it actually starts. A few extra propellers are not very expensive and can save you from a lot of trouble and frustration.
Wind is one of the main problems when it comes to capturing videos or photos using an unmanned aerial vehicle. Because UAVs are light, they can easily be moved laterally by gusts of wind. More powerful winds can actually knock a drone out of the sky.
You may simply be unable to capture professional-looking photos and videos on a windy day; most photos will suffer from motion blur, and videos will be jerky and chaotic as well. Pay attention to the weather forecast when scheduling your next drone shooting adventure.
Rain is another obvious problem. You are strongly advised to never fly a drone when it’s raining. Most drones are not waterproof, and they will be destroyed if water gets into them. You are also advised to refrain from flying if there is a strong possibility rain is coming. Remember that landing the drone may take a few minutes; a sudden rain shower can damage your UAV before you can land it safely.
Using the Right Equipment for the Job
Although many drones come with a built-in camera, it may not be enough for you. The problem is that the default cameras are usually not very good at taking professional-quality photographs. In many cases, their sensor is the size of a typical smartphone camera sensor. Would you record professional-level video and photos with your phone?
So the first thing you should do is purchase a decent camera for your unmanned aerial vehicle. For example, the Nikon Coolpix A is quite capable and not very expensive. For video purposes, the latest model of GoPro would also be a good choice. However, it all depends on your needs and budget.
You also need a good monitor so you can see what you’re shooting in high definition. After all, there’s no point in recording videos or snapping photos blindly in the hopes of capturing something good by accident. A monitor like the Elvid SkyVision is perfect for the job.
When purchasing a monitor, look at its range. Cheaper models have below-average ranges, and you will find that you lose the live feed quickly when you move the drone farther away from your position.
Another very important accessory that you definitely need to invest in is the gimbal. The gimbal’s main function is to stabilize the camera as the drone moves around, accelerates or decelerates. You could do without one if you only do photography; however, for videography, a gimbal is mandatory.
If you don’t have one, your videos will be very jerky, resulting in a quality you definitely won’t be proud of. Most drones have a built-in gimbal to stabilize their cameras. However, if you opted to replace the default camera with a better one, you may find that the default gimbal doesn’t work as it should. That’s why you should buy one specifically for your camera model – and don’t forget it must fit on your drone as well!
As we mentioned earlier, a few extra LiPo battery packs and propellers are also a must if you plan on keeping the drone in the air for a long time. Be aware that if you replace the default camera and gimbal, your drone will become heavier. Flying a heavier drone will drain the battery faster, and you won’t be able to stay in the air as long as you did when you were using the default setup.
Other things, like propeller guards and GPS tracking devices, are not mandatory for drone videos or photos. However, it’s a good idea to do all you can to protect your drone, especially if you’ve invested quite a bit of money in it. For example, a GPS device can help you quickly locate a drone that has fallen out of the sky. But it’s up to you if you want to purchase one.
Choosing the Best Subjects in the Field
For landscape photography, you obviously need beautiful scenery. You can take breathtaking pictures by pointing the camera directly at the ground. All you have to do is hover over the subject and capture the photo. Roads, bridges, fences, houses – all make good subjects for this kind of shooting action.
If you pick the right angle, the viewer will see that the picture has been taken by a drone. Shooting from a height of around 100 feet or more will give you good results. Just remember to be aware of your surroundings even when you’re focused on capturing the perfect photo. You should never trespass on private property – and do be alert for holes and tripping hazards!
For videography, choosing the subjects is easier. Because you can move the camera while you record the video, you can shoot from some spectacular and unusual angles. Here, the only limit is your imagination. You can shoot while you move the camera away from the subject or suddenly accelerate vertically up into the air. The possibilities are unlimited if you are using a good gimbal to stabilize the camera!
We’ve all seen those amazing videos with giant herds of gnu, buffalo, gazelles, and zebras on the Discovery channel. In many cases, the people capturing those shots were not shooting from a helicopter. Drones were used instead, and the quality and awesomeness of the resulting video left millions of people speechless.
It all depends on the subject and on how good you are at capturing the perfect video at the perfect time. You can study some of those videos on YouTube and then try to use the same techniques for your shots.
Image Quality of Drone Photos and Videos
Before you start using your unmanned aerial vehicle to take photos and videos, you should be aware that they’ll never compare in quality to the ones you take from a tripod with a DSLR camera. Videos are generally more forgiving because you don’t need extreme sharpness. However, it can be difficult to capture truly professional looking photos with a drone. It can be done, though.
To avoid blurring your photos, keep the drone stationary while you capture the images. If you accelerate or make any lateral movements, motion blur will appear. Hover around the subject for a bit, making sure the wind isn’t moving the drone, and then capture a few photos. At least one of them will probably come out blur-free.
Low light is another problem for drone photography. Because you can’t use a tripod and keep the camera perfectly still, you generally can’t capture photos with long exposure times without getting a lot of blur. 1/500 of a second or faster is generally advised for drone photography, so make sure you have enough light to capture the subject.
When it comes to video, you can get pretty nice quality out of a drone as long as you have a good gimbal and a good camera. Of course, the subject is what makes the difference between just another video and that awesome clip that goes viral on YouTube. If you use the latest GoPro model, you can capture sharp videos in 4K, which is quite pleasing to the eye.
Also remember that you can greatly enhance the quality of your photos and videos with editing software. Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop can be used to get more detail from your shots and enhance their lighting and colors. Although mastering these programs takes months, you can find literally hundreds of tutorials on the Web. Experiment and you will quickly learn how to get more from your shots using editing software.
Practice Makes Perfect
You won’t be able to do drone photography or videography properly if you don’t know everything there is to know about your UAV and how to fly it. This is why you should practice flying anywhere you can, regardless of the drone you’re using.
Whether you have an entry-level quadcopter or a DJI Phantom 4 won’t matter if you can’t keep it stable and position it correctly. You can get tips on how to fly your drone from any drone forum on the Internet, and you can also get a lot of other information (like how to use LightBridge and take perfect drone videos) from forums and discussion boards.
How are drones controlled? What is the range of the AR.Drone? Is there a quadcopter that follows you? Who makes drones? These are all common questions on drone forums. (“What’s the best indoor quadcopter?” is another old favorite.) After you’ve read what people have to say about taking photos and videos with a drone, start incorporating that advice into your own shoots.
Fly your drone in your backyard or take a few trips around the city to practice. After a few dozen hours of flight, you will begin to get an intuitive feel for your drone. You’ll be able to anticipate what it will do when a gust of wind hits it. You’ll know how long you can keep it in the air. Practice really makes taking photos and videos with a drone perfect!
Tips on Legal and Privacy Concerns
Laws on drones are different from state to state and from country to country. However, common sense applies in all cases. You should never fly your drone anywhere it might cause damage (power stations come to mind instantly…). Also, keep in mind that your drone can fall out of the sky at any time. That’s a low possibility, but it may happen due to a malfunction, so you should avoid flying your UAV over people.
The FAA has some regulations in the US. For example, you are not allowed to fly your UAV within the five miles around an airport. This is for obvious safety reasons. You are also prohibited from flying over and close to military bases. A drone is far from being silent, and it will be noticed quickly. Your drone may be shot down – and you may be arrested for attempting to take photos and videos of a military installation.
Try to respect the privacy of others. It’s not polite to fly over someone’s house or backyard and take photos and videos. You will quickly anger the residents, and they will more than likely call the police. Respect the people around you and nobody will have an issue with you flying your drone.